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Takeout here to stay for North Bay restaurants, even as pandemic indoor restrictions ease

Help is here

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced April 22 new technology partners connected with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal program that will allow eligible restaurants and other eateries to access the disaster relief through a point-of-sale system.

When one door closes, another one opens.

North Bay restaurants grabbed a lifeline during the pandemic called takeout. The question is now whether they will continue, although a national survey showed that 53% of adults say buying takeout or having food delivered is “essential” to how they live.

Before COVID-19 tested the Left Bank Brasserie like other eateries, manager Yuri Plascencia took two to three takeout orders a week. During the pandemic, he received at least 20 times the number at his French restaurant in Larkspur.

“Of course, the pandemic changed everything,” said Plascencia, who tapped into his Mexican heritage for a special takeout menu. “Who would have thought you could get tacos at a French restaurant?”

But Plascencia admitted tacos are a hardier choice for takeout than chicken cordon bleu.

“People loved them. I think they’re here to stay,” he said.

Even though indoor dining restrictions have been raised from 25% to 50% capacity for some counties under California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, outdoor dining and takeout remains a go-to for people eating out.

Plascencia has only reopened two out of three rooms adding up to 15 tables inside.

“It’s a whole new world,” he said.

In Sonoma County, Spinster Sisters Manager Liza Hinman said takeout contributes to a quarter of the business revenue. Hinman noted it helps that her “A” Street location is “centrally located” enough to benefit customers popping in and out to pick up their orders.

“We’ve developed a loyal following,” Hinman said, adding she intends to keep it.

Like Plascencia, Hinman developed a special “family meal” menu for takeout lovers. The restaurant clientele consists of more of the date-night crowd and tourists in the last COVID-19-dominated year.

John Toulze, president of the Girl and the Fig at the Sonoma Square, started the Fig Café and Wine Bar in Glen Ellen over a year ago specifically to handle the “to go” business.

“For 14 months, we’ve had a loyal, consistent clientele,” Toulze said. “The goal right now is to do a little bit of both (onsite and takeout orders).”

Takeout serves to achieve two coronavirus-spawned challenges for restaurants. The business model offers restaurant-quality food to those wanting to eat at home.

Embracing takeout has also traveled up Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley.

Although David LaMonica — the president of the Gebrez Restaurant Group that runs Salt & Stone, is convinced there won’t always be as much of a demand for takeout as there was during the height of the pandemic, takeout has found a permanent place of prominence at the table of dining options.

Before March 2020, Salt & Stone processed three to five takeout orders per month. Now, it averages between five and 25 per day.

In Napa County, takeout is just as popular.

“We survived COVID well because we were already a takeout restaurant,” said Cynthia Ariosta, owner of Tra Vigne Pizzeria in St. Helena.

Ariosta said some restaurants operating with both onsite and takeout business are experiencing what’s being called “the Roaring 20s,” a reference to the post World War I era of prosperity returning for a new century.

During the past year punctuated by the pandemic, the Tra Vigne Pizzeria’s takeout business contributed 60% to its total revenue. Now that things have opened up and more people are feeling comfortable about dining out, it constitutes 40% of the business.

Ariosta is also grateful that her bread-and-butter event business is picking up — including those associated with weddings.

“We’re seeing a lot of reservations now for rehearsal dinners,” she said.

Don’t expect on-premises dining to replace takeout to a great degree from now on, because of the large growth potential, says a National Restaurant Association researcher.

The mass use of cell phones has contributed to all generations embracing takeout.

While indicating takeout or delivery was essential to modern life, those surveyed by the National Restaurant Association in its State of the Industry report released in January declared that over 60% of pre-pandemic restaurant sales were for consumption off the premises. That number jumped to 90% in 2020 during the shutdown and has leveled off to about 80% now.

Almost half of family- or fine-dining restaurants surveyed added delivery options last year starting at the shutdowns in March.

“Our research shows that 6 in 10 adults say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle, and there is a substantial pent-up demand to return to eating on-premises among customers,” National Restaurant Association Senior Vice President of Research Hudson Riehl told the Business Journal.

Nonetheless, Hudson added he doesn’t expect on-premises dining to replace takeout to a great degree from now on because of the large growth potential.

“Last year accelerated that trend, and it’s one change that incrementally will persist as the industry rebuilds,” he said.

Help is here

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced April 22 new technology partners connected with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal program that will allow eligible restaurants and other eateries to access the disaster relief through a point-of-sale system.

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